My personal choices for the best superhero movies of the admittedly young 21st century.
A great film is a great film regardless of genre and Thor is all the proof needed to back up that statement. Director Kenneth Branagh hits all the right notes, the first rate cast never misses a beat and the art direction is nearly flawless. All of that, however, would have been just so much window dressing without Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne's inspired script which effortlessly intertwines the needs and foibles of gods and humans to create a redemptive tale for the ages. Special shoutout goes to Anthony Hopkins who should have won a supporting actor nomination for the combination of fire and nuance he employed in bringing the all-father, Odin, to life.
2) The Avengers
Big, bold, exciting, brilliantly balanced and fun as hell The Avengers may turn out to be a one-off. But man, what a one-off!
3) Batman Begins
For my money its a draw between 'Begins' and Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" as to which is the best Batman movie ever. It's the one film of Nolan's trilogy where his reach doesn't exceed his creative grasp. It's tight, smart and darkly fascinating and (despite Nolan's protestations to the contrary) doesn't forget that Gotham is a fictional place and Batman a comic book superhero.
Superheroes are basically sadistic/masochistic boozers and losers who help people because it kicks their libido into gear. Either that or they're egomaniac geniuses who sacrifice millions of lives to impose their vision of "right" on the world, or flee the scene of the accidents they helped create when the going gets tough. Real-world angst played out in an alternative reality USA beautifully re-created from the graphic novel.
5) The Dark Knight Rises
In spite of my reservations concerning some of Nolan's ongoing creative choices and the fact that I believe he could have cut a good 20 minutes out of the film's middle and had a much better film, TDKR still has enough going for it to warrant inclusion on this list. Strong performances all around, a basically smart story that brings 'Begins' back into the fold and an ending that raises plenty of questions but also ties up the trilogy in an unexpected yet satisfying way.